Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket vs Penang – The two pearls go head to head

Published

 on 

Thaiger deals

…including some reflections by guest writer TravellingMitch

There was a time when Penang was the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, for some western travellers the only ‘orient’ they would know outside of Singapore and maybe Hong Kong.

It was the 1950s and 60s when jet travel had just started making the world smaller and the western middle class were in search of new and exotic locations.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by Thaiger

But there’s a time when Penang’s popularity just fell off the map. In the mid 1970s people started to visit the little Thai island of Phuket and a new ‘pearl’ would go on to being a tourist favourite, and still is – Phuket, The Pearl of the Andaman.

The two islands are, geographically, very close and share a similar history of both European and Chinese trading heritage. Walking around Phuket Town and Georgetown will display exactly the same style of sino-porteuguese architecture although Penang has always had a lot more grand colonial buildings due to the British colonisation of Malaya.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by Thaiger

The stark difference is that Phuket has many beaches. Penang has few and the water isn’t clear. Phuket has Patong and there’s really no equivalent in Penang (many would argue that’s a good thing).

Penang has much better roads and organised infrastructure, probably due to some early colonial planning and the large flat spaces for residential areas and towns.

And Phuket is Thai and Penang is Malaysian with all the cultural and religious differences that provide each island it’s own distinct personality.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by Thaiger

If you want to drive from one island to the other it will take about 9-10 hours and you’ll cover 647 Km. There are direct flights with Firefly five days a week (it varies at different times of the year). As the crow flies, the islands are 357 Km apart.

There are two daily flights from one island to the other, one with Firefly Airline on a turbo prop aircraft and the other with Air Asia in an Airbus 320. In both cases the flight will take you around an hour, a bit faster in the jet. (Firefly is usually five days a week)

‘TravellingMitch’ travelled to the two islands back in 2010 and penned an article which, with permission, we’ve re-printed in bold.

Compared to Phuket, Penang is very low key. There is not the choice or variety of areas and scenery to stay in Penang as there are in Phuket. Penang is limited with its tourist areas, the town of Georgetown, and the beach resorts of Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringi, and the fact that the sea is not clear.

Having said that nothing is manic, like say Patong in Phuket, and Batu Ferringhi feels a bit like a small and quiet Karon or Kata. Tanjung Bungah is very quiet indeed. The hotels in the beach resorts in Penang are right on the beach.

Nothing much has changed since 2010, then…

Phuket is a place where you can just about find it all. You want mega busy with bars, shops coming out of your ears, Phuket has it. You want to be partying all night, Phuket has it. You want remote 5* luxury, Phuket has it. You want something in between, Phuket has it. I hate to say Phuket has it all, but will say that Phuket has a huge range and choice of hotels and locations when compared to Penang. Not many hotels directly on the beach in the well known areas like Patong, Karon and Kata, but many of the more remoter beaches have hotels right on the sand, and as they are only 20mins from places like Patong are very popular.

Think that the 20 minute travelling time has blown out a bit since 2010…

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by Thaiger

Penang is more sedate, and at the moment happy with being Penang. Only has 1, maybe 2 beach areas and the sea is a bit iffy but Penang is still food heaven, has a much more laid back quality and does not have that really busy feel [even if it is] that you get in Phuket. Not much in the way of night life for those wanting to party until the early hours but there are a couple of night clubs in Georgetown. The only worry is if people try to turn Batu Ferringhi into Patong.

That hasn’t happened, yet…

Phuket wins hands down on beaches. Penang does not compare. The water is clean and clear and snorkelling possible right off hotel beach even in the busiest resorts in Phuket whilst Penang is not so lucky.

And Penang doesn’t have the assortment of islands off the main island that Phuket has…

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by Thaiger

Both are equal contenders for food. There is a good choice of cheap local food around in both but in Penang you get a wonderful eclectic mix of Malaysia, Thai, South East Asian, Chinese and Indian. All are very, very tasty.

Penang’s food scene is legendary and on-par with anywhere in the world offering excellent quality street and restaurant food.

Shopping, well, Phuket gets it, but only just, and that is because of there are more markets – a thing that Penang is limited in. Although the modern malls are the same the world round, and most modern malls you could be anywhere, Bluewater in the UK, or the Gurney Plaza / Queensbay in Penang or Central Festival in Phuket. The brands and shops are pretty global and in the modern malls only the signs give the indication where you are.

Would have to put the newest shopping malls in Penang ahead of Phuket for now (as we await the opening of the new Central Festival in Phuket next year).

Generally we found that the cost of clothes is about the same as the UK throughout both Malaysia and Thailand, be it the hi-end or mid range original items or replicas. Bargaining is a necessity in SE Asia, and you will get a better deal the more you buy. There are some great replica products and some absolute rotters in both countries, shop wisely and expect to pay more for the better stuff, again prices are about the same. Given the cheap price of clothes and other products in the UK and the weak pound when travelling, we often found we were actually paying more than we could at home.

That also hasn’t changed but with the Thai baht surging it’s making costs higher for international tourists than before.

There are some lovely souvenirs in both, and the usual household stuff like cushion covers and table runners, which are popular, and DVD prices are pretty similar throughout both Phuket and Penang. Although I would say that Phuket, with the larger number of markets does seem to have a larger choice.

We always use local laundries to avoid the expensive hotel laundry fees. You will get a really good deal by the kilo for washing, and washing and ironing in both Penang and Phuket. Came back clean and fresh.

Hotels are pretty standard for both places, and not much to choose, a bad 3* and a wonderful 5* are pretty much the same the world round. There is a huge number of hotels in Phuket to pick from compared to the number in Penang. You do find many more really nice smaller boutique hotels in Phuket – and they are a real pleasure.

The ’boutique hotel’ scene and the newer high rise ‘residences’ are a growing trend in Penang with superior planning and development controls than the haphazard condo boom in Phuket.

Both island have amazing sights both natural and man made. Both have the culture of their old towns, Georgetown and Phuket Town. There is a great choice of things to see and do, and as what to see and do is a very personal thing no one could get bored in either as long as they have done their homework.

Georgetown is a lot larger than Phuket Town and is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. This has dampened a lot of the renovation of the old shop houses in Georgetown compared to what we’ve seen around Phuket in the past decade. But you could wander around Georgetown for days whereas Phuket Town might take you an afternoon at best.

So, I guess there is no real comparison, they are both very different, and it will depend on what each person wants for their experience to which is the better option. Please don’t go to one expecting the other. But if you do plenty of reading and research you will see which one is for you. Or you might be like us and love them both for what they are.

Couldn’t agree more, thanks TravellingMitch.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by Thaiger

AREA Phuket 576 Sq Km, Penang 1,048 Sq Km

POPULATION Phuket 480,000, Penang 1.7 million

 

 

Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2011. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for 42 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program (public radio Australia), presented over 11,000 radio news bulletins, 3,950 in Thailand alone, hosted 1050 daily TV news programs and produced 2,100 videos, TV commercials and documentaries. He also reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and other major stories in Thailand.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Video59 mins ago

THAILAND NEWS TODAY | Korean woman arrested for 5-million-baht theft, 6-year overstay

Crime1 hour ago

Tuhao’s Chinese gang buys 50 homes in Bangkok luxury village with cash

Road deaths1 hour ago

Bus flipped in Tak injuring 44 Burmese workers, killing 3

Sponsored3 hours ago

Krungthong Plaza offers endless choices of well-selected plus-size fashion products

Thailand1 hour ago

3 men were arrested for stealing Thai Internet connection & World Cup betting in Cambodia

Pattaya1 hour ago

Intoxicated Pattaya woman left uninjured after overturning car

Crime2 hours ago

Woman who allegedly scammed victims for over 30 million baht arrested in Pattaya

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Bangkok2 hours ago

Bangkok BTS Skytrain fares to increase next year

Thailand2 hours ago

Police put brakes on car rental thief in Bangkok

World3 hours ago

New drug marks major milestone in slowing Alzhemier’s

World Cup3 hours ago

400 to 500 migrant workers in Qatar died due to World Cup, not 6,500

Visa4 hours ago

Thailand advises Indians to obtain visa prior to travelling to avoid long queues

Thailand4 hours ago

Driver furious with Bangkok shopping mall after foreigner accidently causes damage to her car

Politics4 hours ago

Iran promises Thailand it won’t attack Israeli tourists

Crime5 hours ago

Korean woman arrested for 5 million baht theft, 6-year overstay

Tourism5 hours ago

Japan is the No.1 tourist destination among Thais

Thailand1 year ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism2 years ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism2 years ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism2 years ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Trending